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The key Walking Dead moments that’ll ready you for the final season

Yes, The Walking Dead is still on. Twelve years after Sheriff Rick Grimes stumbled out of a hospital bed, the AMC zombie apocalypse series kicked off its 11th and final season last summer, and will conclude in 2022. The show has survived showrunner changes, the death or disappearance of all but two characters who have been there since the first season, and a real-world pandemic, all while running more or less parallel to Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s comic book source material. The show has made plenty of original creative decisions, but even Season 11 will draw in new characters and arcs from the final issues of the comics. With a planned spinoff already announced for stars Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead franchise is anything but dead.

That said, based on viewership ratings, The Walking Dead has also lost fans over the years. If you dropped off the show at some point, you’re not alone. To help get those who might want to jump back in for a final season get back up to speed, here’s a look back at the milestones of The Walking Dead history, highlighting the actors in guest or small roles you totally forgot (or never knew) braved the Atlanta sun, as well as characters who have been introduced, have been killed off, or have antagonized the survivors over the years.

Season 1: Don’t open, dead inside

Who we met: Rick Grimes, Morgan Jones, Shane Walsh, Lori Grimes, Carl Grimes, Dale Horvath, Andrea, Glenn Rhee, Merle Dixon, Daryl Dixon, T-Dog, Carol Peletier, Sophia Peletier, Morales

Who we lost: Jacqui, Ed Peletier, Amy

You forgot about: Noah Emmerich played Edwin Jenner aka The CDC Guy. Emmerich recently reprised his role in the spin-off The World Beyond.

The big bad: The Walkers

The gist: Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and into a zombie apocalypse. He is rescued by Morgan Jones. After making his way to Atlanta, he meets Glenn Rhee and a group of survivors.

Some drama erupts when one of Glenn’s companions, Merle, launches a racist attack against a man named T-Dog. Rick handcuffs Merle to a pipe on a roof to subdue him, but T-Dog drops the key. They abandon him on the roof and return in a later episode with his brother Daryl only to discover that Merle has sawed his own hand off and escaped.

Back at their camp, Rick is reunited with his wife Lori, his son Carl, and his best friend Shane … who has taken up with his wife Lori. Yikes!

At the end of the season, the survivors seek answers and shelter at the CDC building outside of Atlanta. They find a little of both, but soon learn that the lone doctor, Edwin Jenner, plans to blow up the building. After pleading with him, Jenner lets them leave just before the place kabooms.

Season 2: The farm

Who we met: Maggie Greene, Hershel Greene, Beth Greene

Who we lost: Sophia Peletier, Shane Walsh, Dale Horvath, Otis, Patricia

You forgot about: Michael Zegan, who went on to play Joel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, played the antagonist Randall. Michael Raymond James, better known as René from True Blood, played a character named Dave.

The big bad: Shane Walsh

The gist: Rick’s group is taken in by the Greene family at its farm. Glenn and the oldest daughter Maggie fall in love.

Carol’s daughter Sophia runs off, and the survivors search for her to no avail. Her zombified corpse wanders out of a locked barn full of walkers, and Rick puts her down.

Rick stabs his former best friend Shane in the chest after the philosophical and personal divide between the two of them reaches a breaking point.

The gang learns that everyone is infected with the walker virus and will turn when they die no matter how they die, not just if they get bitten. Dr. Edwin Jenner whispered this to Rick in the season 1 finale, and he held on to that information until the season 2 finale.

Season 3: The prison & the governor

Who we met: Phillip Blake a.k.a. The Governor, Michonne Hawthorne, Tyreese, Sasha

Who we lost: Lori, Haley, Milton Mamet, Axel, Merle, T-Dog

You forgot about: Teen Wolf and Chicago Fire actor Melissa Ponzio played a survivor named Karen. This was also the first year Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown was a guest on the after-show Talking Dead.

The big bad: The Governor

The gist: Rick’s group lodges at a (mostly) abandoned prison after clearing a herd of walkers from the yard.

Andrea befriends a woman named Michonne and the two of them discover a settlement called Woodbury led by a Governor with a tyrannical leadership style and a dark secret. He’s keeping his zombified daughter locked up like something out of Jane Eyre.

Lori dies in childbirth, forcing Carl to put a bullet in her brain before she reanimates.

Daryl’s brother Merle returns and sides with The Governor. He kidnaps Glenn and Maggie and tortures Glenn for Daryl and Rick’s location while The Governor sexually harasses Maggie.

Michonne follows Glenn and Maggie’s tracks to the prison. She tells Rick and the others about the Governor. They don’t trust her, but it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.

Rick, Carl, and Michonne discover Morgan living alone and mentally unstable. They try to convince him to come live with them, but he refuses.

Merle and Daryl are forced to fight, but it’s The Governor who ultimately kills Merle. In the season finale, Andrea is killed as well — marking one of the series’ biggest departures from the source material.

Season 4: The Governor, again

Who we met: Bob Stookey, Abraham, Tara, Eugene, Rosita, Gareth, Lizzie and Mika

Who we lost: Hershel, The Governor, Zach, Karen and David, Lizzie and Mika

You forgot about: Aldis Hodge from Hidden Figures played Michonne’s boyfriend Mike. Robin Lord Taylor, who played the Penguin on Gotham, appeared at Terminus in seasons 4 and 5. In a flashback, Enver Gjokaj, known for Agent Carter and Dollhouse, played a survivor named Pete who The Governor betrayed in his rise to power. Another Marvel alum, actress Kerry Condon who voices the AI system Friday in multiple films played a survivor named Clara in two episodes. Finally, Kyle Gallner, a.k.a. Beavers from Veronica Mars, played Beth’s boyfriend.

The big bad: The Governor, The Claimers, Terminus

The gist: Still at the prison, the survivors have a deadly flu strain to deal with on top of everything else. The disease came from pigs. Carol mercy kills two sick survivors and is temporarily banished from the group because of it.

The Governor, with Hershel and Michonne held hostage, drives a friggin’ tank up to the prison and confronts Rick and his council. He kills Hershel, and is killed shortly thereafter.

The group leaves the prison, scattered into about three small factions. They all individually start following signs towards a place called “Terminus” that offers “sanctuary.” Sasha becomes romantically involved with Bob.

Glenn and Tara, who used to be one of The Governor’s followers, meet Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene. They are on a mission to take Eugene, who claims to be a scientist with a cure for the Walker disease, to Washington D.C.

Lizzie Samuels starts to get a little too attached to the walkers, and kills her little sister just to make a point. In one of the show’s most heartbreaking moments, Carol pulls an Of Mice and Men and kills Lizzie before she endangers anyone else.

Rick bites the neck of a man whose gang threatens to rape and murder both Michonne and Carl. No more Mr. Nice Rick.

All three groups make it to Terminus and pretty quickly discover that it is a trap. Dun dun dun!

Season 5: Terminus

Who we met: Father Gabriel Stokes, Aaron, Enid, the Monroe family, Jessie Anderson, Tobin, Olivia, Eric

Who we lost: Beth Greene, Bob Stookey, Jessie’s husband Pete, Tyreese

You forgot about: Maximiliano Hernández, better known as Jasper Sitwell of the MCU, had a two-episode arc this season. Austin Abrams, of Dash and Lilly fame, played Jessie’s son Ron. Former child star Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) played a patient at the hospital with Beth. Tyler James Williams played Noah (and went on to star in Everybody Hates Chris).

The big bad: Terminus, Grady Memorial Hospital, Deanna Monroe

The gist: The gang escapes Terminus, which is inhabited by cannibals. Highlights include Carol pulling a sneak attack and blowing Terminus up with a rocket, and Bob Stookey weaponizing the ol’ “hide your bite” trick by allowing the cannibals to consume his “tainted meat.”

Beth is accidentally killed in a hostage situation after being indentured at a hospital.

Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita continue their quest to DC to find a cure for the virus … until Eugene reveals that he was lying the whole time.

The group next comes to the Alexandria Safe-Zone, a suburban community led by a woman named Deanna Monroe. While she provides lodgings for the survivors, they don’t trust her and her people don’t trust them.

Carol discovers that a woman named Jessie is being abused by her husband Pete and requests that Rick take care of it. This causes further conflict between them and their new hosts … especially as Rick bonds with Jessie.

Morgan Jones returns to the series a second time and has decided that Rick is the key to the future. In the season’s final and most powerful moment, Rick executes Pete on Deanna’s orders at the exact moment that Morgan reaches Alexandria.

Season 6: The Alexandria safe-zone

Who we met: Paul “Jesus” Rovia, Dwight, Sherry, Gregory, Simon, Scott

Who we lost: The Andersons, Owen, Negan’s “mysterious” victim

You forgot about: In The Heights and Straight Outta Compton star Corey Hawkins played Heath. This season also featured character actor John Carroll Lynch as Morgan’s mentor Eastman. Ethan Embry (Sweet Home Alabama, Grace and Frankie) appeared in one episode. And two-time Emmy winner Merritt Wever appeared for a handful of episodes in this season as Denise.

The big bad: The Wolves, Negan

The gist: Rick’s group continues to stay at the Alexandria-Safe Zone. They are attacked by a group called The Wolves and find a herd of walkers in a quarry that eventually overruns Alexandria, killing a lot of its original inhabitants in the struggle.

Carl is accidentally shot by his dad’s girlfriend’s son Ron and loses an eye.

While on a mission to divert the herd, Glenn gets trapped under a dumpster with seemingly no way out. Steven Yeun’s name is removed from the credits. Four episodes later, he returns.

Months later, the group meets a man who calls himself “Jesus” from another community living on a historical site called The Hilltop. Jesus tells them that his group is being extorted by people who call themselves “The Saviors” and are led by a man called Negan. The group agrees to help.

There’s a lot of relationship drama. Abraham breaks up with Rosita and pursues Sasha. Rick and Michonne become the power couple to end all power couples. Carol breaks up with Tobin.

Dwight, a Savior and the Daryl to Negan’s Rick, accidentally kills Tara’s girlfriend Denise. This happens fresh on the heels of several other lesbian character death scenes on television in 2016, including those in The 100 and Jane the Virgin, sparking a conversation about the Bury Your Gays trope.

The season ends on a cliffhanger, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan making a dramatic entrance as Negan, lining up most of the main characters and killing one of them just out of focus.

Season 7: Negan

Who we met: Ezekiel, Jerry, Diane, Anne/Jadis, Henry

Who we lost: Abraham, Glenn, Spencer Monroe, Sasha, Olivia

You forgot about: Shiva, who is a tiger.

The big bad: Negan

The gist: The season 6 finale left fans guessing who Negan bludgeoned to death with his beloved bat Lucille. Would it be Glenn, like it is in the comics, or someone else? The writers weren’t going to let any fan theories be correct. They went with both options. Negan kills Abraham … and then Glenn. Ouch.

Daryl is kidnapped by the Saviors and tortured with a banger song called “Easy Street” that was written for the show. Later in the season, Eugene is taken hostage and ends up switching sides for a bit, helping the Saviors make and develop weapons.

Maggie gives birth to her and Glenn’s son and names him Hershell.

Three new communities, each with their own connection to Negan, are added to the mix and recruited by Rick and his group: Oceanside, a group of women who live in isolation on the beach; The Scavengers, who live in a trash heap and are led by a mysterious artist; and The Kingdom, led by a charismatic former community theater actor who calls himself King Ezekiel.

Sasha takes a cyanide pill and dies by suicide while being taken as a hostage to Alexandria so that her walker form can take out some Saviors, Trojan-horse style, in the final episode.

Season 8: Negan, again

Who we met: Siddiq, Arat, Alden

Who we lost: Shiva, Carl, Eric, Morales

You forgot about: Comedian Whitmer Thomas (Stone Quackers, the sketch group Power Violence) as “Gunther.” Jayne Atkinson, who you may know from House of Cards and Free Willy, shows up as Georgie.

The big bad: … still Negan

The gist: The war between Rick’s militia and the Saviors takes up the entire season. We also see more of what life is like at Negan’s Sanctuary, and a handful of Saviors attempt and fail to overthrow their fearless leader.

Remember Morales, the family man from season 1? It’s revealed in season 8 that his family died and he fell in with the Saviors. He threatens Rick and is shot dead by Daryl.

Maggie meets a woman named Georgie who gives her a book with schematics for windmills, aqueducts, and other medieval infrastructure technology that can help survivors build “a future from our past.”

Eugene finally betrays the Saviors by crafting ammunition that backfires on them.

Carl was bitten by a walker while bringing a doctor named Siddiq to Alexandria, and prepared for his imminent death by writing a lot of letters. He wrote to Negan. He wrote to Rick. He wrote to Enid. He wrote to Michonne. He argued for ending the war and forgiving Negan in favor of building a brighter future.

To honor Carl’s wishes, and much to the dismay of Maggie and many of the other survivors, when Rick corners Negan in the final battle against the Saviors, he doesn’t kill him.

Season 9: Farewell to Rick

Who we met: Magna, Connie, Kelly, Luke, Yumiko, Alpha, Beta, Lydia, Earl and Tammy Rose Sutton

Who we lost: Gregory, Jesus, Tara, Enid, Tammy Rose, Henry

You forgot about: Rutina Wesley (True Blood, Queen Sugar) guest-starred as a former friend of Michonne’s. Tony Award winner Steve Kazee (Once) also appeared in one episode this season as Alpha’s husband.

The big bad: Alpha

The gist: Andrew Lincoln departs the series as Rick Grimes, but his character was not killed off. He gets abducted by the artist Anne/Jadis and taken away in a helicopter with a mysterious symbol that also shows up on the TWD spin-offs Fear The Walking Dead and The World Beyond.

In the aftermath of the Savior War, Maggie has Gregory executed and takes over The Hilltop. However, she ultimately leaves with Georgie to help build other communities.

There are two time jumps this season — first to two years after the end of the Savior War, and then to six years after Rick’s disappearance. Now eight years after the end of season 8, we learn that Michonne is the de factor leader at Alexandria, and Jesus is in charge of the Hilltop.

A coalition has formed from the surviving communities: Alexandria, The Kingdom, Oceanside, and The Hilltop. A fifth group, called “The Highwaymen,” also joins. Some of the remaining Saviors have joined the four communities. Others take off. But despite the coalition on paper, the communities are a bit divided in Rick’s absence.

Also in that time, some romances have brewed. We learn that Rosita is in a long-term relationship with Father Gabriel after briefly sleeping with Siddiq, Enid is now with Alden, and Carol and Ezekiel got married … but then break up in the season finale. Daryl has also been living in the woods and returns with a dog named Dog.

A new threat arises after a period of peace. This group, called The Whisperers, is led by a woman who wants to be known only as Alpha and wears masks made out of walker skin so as to live amongst them. Alpha’s daughter Lydia is captured and held at Alexandria, but ultimately defects and asks to stay there.

The Whisperers first attack Jesus, who dies in a foggy blaze of glory. They then make a statement by kidnapping, torturing, and beheading 10 survivors from the other communities — who were enjoying a peaceful unity fair — including Tara, Enid, and Carol’s adopted son Henry. Their heads are placed on pikes as a warning not to cross into Whisperer territory.

In the season finale, a big snowstorm destroys the infrastructure at The Kingdom, and brings all of the characters back together at Alexandria and the Hilltop. They have a snowball fight! Michonne begrudgingly thanks Negan for saving Judith. But Alpha, Beta, and the Whisperers are still out there …

Season 10: The Whisperers

Who we met: Princess, Stephanie (kind of), Leah, Pope, Virgil

Who we lost: Earl, Dante, Lucille the baseball bat, Siddiq

You forgot about: Thora Birch (Ghost World) played a Whisperer named Gamma. Robert Patrick played twin brothers in a stand-alone episode, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s wife Hilarie Burton played Negan’s wife Lucille in a flashback.

The big bad: Alpha, Beta

The gist: The supersized season was broken up into parts and aired in 2019, 2020, and 2021 due to pandemic shutdowns. In it, The Whisperer War wages on. The Hilltop burns and the Alexandria walls are breached. Lydia bonds with Negan and Carol.

Carol helps Negan escape. He infiltrates The Whisperers and kills Alpha. Later, Negan and Daryl take out Beta, and the Whisperer War ends.

Lauren Cohen also returns in the midseason finale as Maggie. She has a group of survivors with her who are being antagonized by The Reapers. She’s not too jazzed about how friendly Negan has become with everyone. To ease the tension, Carol suggests that he live in isolation. He tries that, and then in the season’s final moments heads back to Alexandria.

Throughout the season Eugene starts to talk to a woman named Stephanie on the radio. He travels to find her with Yumiko and Ezekiel. They meet a lone survivor named Princess and end up getting captured by Stephanie’s people.

Danai Guirera departs the series this season, but like Lincoln her character was not killed off. Michonne went off in search of Rick. If those TWD universe spin-off movies ever get made, we’ll likely see their reunion there.

In a flashback, we learn that in the six-year time jump Daryl had a romantic relationship with a woman named Leah. She’s the original owner of Dog the dog and the cabin where Negan is briefly banished.

Season 11: The Commonwealth

Who we met: Pamela Milton, Lance Hornsby, Mercer, Tomichi

Who we lost: Pope

The big bad: Pamela Milton, The Reapers

The gist: The first half of the final season picks up where season 10 left off. Maggie, back with the group, helps to rebuild Alexandria and fight off the Reapers. Daryl’s ex-girlfriend Leah returns, and is revealed to be one of the Reapers. He briefly joins them but remains loyal to Maggie.

Connie and Virgil are reunited with the group, but not after surviving a murder house inhabited by cannibals.

Yumiko is reunited with her brother, Tomichi, at the Commonwealth. This is an homage to Michonne’s arc in the comics. She reaches the Commonwealth and reunites with her daughter. Princess, Eugene, and Ezekial also try to fit in at this new, very organized community, to varying degrees of success. Something is up. A group whose soldiers look like Stormtroopers can’t be good … right?

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